Monday, 1 September 2008


When asked if I wanted to go to mass at 5am in the morning, the answer would normally be a pretty solid ‘no’. But as the people who were asking were my lovely hostess Christina and her eager family, a hestitant ‘yes’ issued from my lips.

When the alarm went off at 4am, I dressed alone, as Lilith had chosen to sleep and face divine retribution, and wearily stumbled into the living room. Everyone but Christina and her sister Chandra was asleep. Even the nun was missing mass! Hoping that Jesus would give me some serious kudos for getting up so early, I got into the car somewhat disgruntled.

As it was a feast day we went to Bangalore’s biggest church, St. Mary’s Basilica. The city felt ghostly without its trademark traffic but the strange atmosphere was soon lost as we entered the busy basilica. Negotiating the crowd in full sari was pretty tricky for a newbie like myself, especially as many people went out of their way to have a good look at the rather graceless white girl.

Nowhere does religious kitsch like India. The church was adorned to the eyeballs with fairy lights and polyester flowers, whilst the plastic saints and gigantic neon iconography would have made Baz Lurhman blush.

First on the itinerary was what I affectionately call ‘danger praying’. Equipped with a wreath of flowers and a candle, you have to fight your way to the front of the chapel before the candle burns to the bottom, sets fire to the flowers and leaves your hand a molten mess. Further hazard is added by young children (also given candles) and Indian women’s traditionally long hair. I made it, just, to the front of the chapel, where my candle was swiftly put out by the hand of a fire-retardant priest and the flowers were offered to a sari-clad statue of the Virgin Mary.

Next up was the scrum for the Eucharist. Services were going on back to back in Kanada, Telegu and English and it didn’t seem to matter that we hadn’t listened to the mass, it was all about the prize. Hitching my sari up to my knees, I followed as Christina disappeared into the crowd at break-neck speed. We elbowed the less pious out of the way and eventually received our holy reward. How people think about Jesus during such sport is a bit of a mystery.

Looking back, I’m certain that my efforts were noticed. We’ve been in some near-death traffic situations since and every time we’ve survived. So far.

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